The corruption allegations surrounding South African President Jacob Zuma have prompted the National Assembly to take action.
And observers say Zuma’s problems may translate into losses by the African National Congress in South Africa’s parliamentary elections in May.
National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu announced on this month that he is appointing a committee to look into a recent report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
That report said that Zuma “improperly benefited” from the use of state funds to upgrade his private residence, Nkandla. The 12-member parliamentary panel has been given until April 30 to issue its findings.
The Public Protector’s report said the equivalent of $23 million was spent on “security upgrades.”
Among other things, a swimming pool and an enclosure for his cattle were constructed.
“Some of these measures,” the report said, “can be legitimately classified as unlawful, and the acts involved constitute improper conduct and maladministration.”
Former U.S. Ambassador John Campbell, now at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the pool has become a symbol of the president’s excess.
“The justification for it,” he said, “is that the swimming pool provides a water source that could be used – in other words, you could pump water out of it – to fight a fire. Most South Africans, if the ‘blogosphere’ is any indication, simply don’t buy that as an explanation.”
Campbell’s observation is backed by Gareth Newham, an analyst at the independent research organization Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
“Various surveys show that at least two thirds of South Africans believe that he benefited unduly in his personal capacity from taxpayer’s money,” he said, adding that these surveys also show that people believe “that the money [spent] was excessive. It wasn’t spent correctly.”
David Lewis, executive director of “Corruption Watch” in Johannesburg, agreed.
“The point is that he is using the presidency of the country for his personal gain,” Lewis said. “And the answer in the Nkandla scandal “is that yes, he does not appreciate the distinction between public resources and his private gain.”
Zuma issued a statement on April 3 saying that he is awaiting the results of a parallel probe by South Africa’s Special Investigating Unit before responding to questions about the expenditures.
Already, a report from an inter-ministerial committee has cleared the South African president of wrongdoing.
But in Newham’s view that report lacks credibility.
“This is an internal report,” Newham said, “an investigation headed by his various ministers who are directly implicated in these unethical and illegal expenditures. And, they cleared themselves, and him.”
The Nkandla controversy isn’t the first for Zuma.
His financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years in prison for bribery in connection of to the South African Navy’s purchase of new ships when Zuma was deputy-president.
Zuma himself was also charged with corruption and relieved of his duties by President Thabo Mbeki.
After rounds of legal maneuvering, the charges against Zuma were dropped in April 2009, clearing the way for him to run for the presidency. Zuma’s future hinges on the outcome of National Assembly elections.
Campbell said a shake-up may be looming ahead.
“At present,” he said, “the ANC has about two thirds of the seats in parliament. If the ANC’s percentage drops below 60 percent, then some commentators think the ANC might remove Zuma as the party leader.”